Since Chris Wood left to light up the Premier League (with 4 goals), we’ve had to contend with the troubling notion of replacing him. Lasogga was brought in as the closest like-for-like swap and statistically is an absolute weapon. 5 goals and 3 assists in 10 games is an impressive return, especially in a league he’s not played in before, in a squad he’s had little time to gel with. Though people have (rightly) criticised how much of a passenger he seemed in the more contentious games.
This was one of my biggest gripes with Beckford and one that most people conveniently forget. Despite his incredible scoring tally and fondness for scoring important goals, there were periods where Jermaine was a total passenger. Though we tolerated this in many games because he inevitably would do one good thing and win the game. But when you’re playing good sides you can hardly afford to play with 10 men and that’s doubly true in this Championship. This league is full of quality sides and everyone needs to defend.
Chris Wood was one of our leading players for defensive headed clearances, for example, such was his role in set pieces. Something that made Caleb Ekuban look so pleasing in his short stint between injuries was his tenacity to close down and defend from the front. When you’re playing against good sides who wish to use the ball and control the game, having your most advanced player preventing short distribution, forcing mistakes at the back and generally unsettling the opposition is invaluable. A legitimate criticism of Lasogga in some of his games (despite his goals) was his lack of mobility in doing this. If you trundle around the opposition half, you’re not applying any pressure to their midfield. They merely play triangles around you and get on with their lives. While he’s probably the best finisher at the club, I’m yet to be convinced that he’s the tactical forward we need for every game.
So let’s discuss Kemar Roofe; a halo signing of sorts whose arrival was somewhat overshadowed by the somewhat conspicuous departure of Lewis Cook immediately after. Fans would go on to criticise his lack of goals, conveniently ignoring the fact that he played as a striker at Oxford but was largely utilised on the wing for Leeds. With Antonsson out on loan, Lasogga visiting fat-camp (or wherever he is), Ekuban having yet another foot problem and all other options unproven, Roofe has been afforded increasing opportunities to stake a claim on the #9 position. He first did so in the cup against Newport and scored a hat-trick, finished with a somewhat audacious overhead kick into the bottom corner from the area. While they’re only League Two opposition, scoring is scoring.
He repeated this feat against QPR in the league and this raised eyebrows. It’s all well and good putting in good performances against poor cup sides, but like Saiz, impressing in those games offers you chances in the league, taking those chances puts you in the first team.
When played as a striker, his statistics are really quite impressive. When started as a forward he has scored 3 goals in 7 games, but this becomes more impressive if you consider that his hat-trick against QPR came when he was moved up-front to replace Ekuban (who came off injured). This boosts his numbers to be an incredible 6 goals in 8 games when played as a forward.
But being a good player isn’t just about numbers, it’s about performances. There’s a tired adage about “good strikers score goals”, and that’s true, but I’d rather have a striker that didn’t score at all if their all-round performance meant their lack of goals was comfortably made up for the goals coming from the attacking midfielders. I’d rather have a striker that closes down and allows 4 other players to score 3 goals each, than to have one player who scored 12 goals. That way we’re not entirely putting our eggs in a single basket (like we were with Wood). That’s something I quite like about having a player like Roofe in the attacking role. Because he’s entirely interchangeable with the players behind him (in terms of style and ability), we’ve got members like Hernandez, Alioski, Cibicki and Saiz looming behind and they all rotate positions. It’s an absolute sod to mark and causes problems for defences.
We also saw against Burton (I’ll discuss the game in a moment…) that while he was struggling to get into the game, his effort was tireless and he ran channels really well. He played an intelligent game, drawing fouls and never giving up on the idea that he’d find a way through their tenacious back line. It came when Ronaldo Vieira played a ball worthy of De Bruyne (on his weak foot, no less) between yellow-shirts with pinpoint precision. Roofe trapped it perfectly and fired a sniper shot past Bywater winning the game for Leeds. He’d been unlucky to not score earlier in the game, too.
Is Roofe the best forward we have at Leeds? Does Lasogga fit into our system? It’s hard to tell, too, given the German was introduced to the Burton game at a difficult time and made little impact. This isn’t in any way damning of the contribution he could have made, but with these fleeting glimpses of him it’s hard to really make a call whether he’s worth slotting back in at #9 ahead of Roofe when Kemar is routinely scoring.
I’ve seen people calling for Antonsson’s loan at Blackburn to be called short and for him to be given a chance up-front, though with 7 goals from 18 starts it’s perhaps wishful thinking that he’s the answer. I’d be tempted to give Lasogga a game soon against some more physical opposition, because the one thing we can all agree on is that he’s a far more troublesome unit physically than Roofe will ever be.
With Birmingham City our next game on Saturday, this would be an ideal game to keep things the same, though it would be tempting to see what Hernandez and Saiz could do together against a side who look to be in free-fall.
Game on. And don’t listen to the whispers that might remind you that we’re in the playoffs again. One game at a time.